The University of Wisconsin Press

Cultural Studies / Folklore / Humor / Media Studies

The Last Laugh
Folk Humor, Celebrity Culture, and Mass-Mediated Disasters in the Digital Age
Trevor J. Blank

Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World

Q: What’s the difference between Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett?
A: About three hours.

Widely publicized in mass media worldwide, high-profile tragedies and celebrity scandals—the untimely deaths of Michael Jackson and Princess Diana, the embarrassing affairs of Tiger Woods and President Clinton, the 9/11 attacks or the Challenger space shuttle explosion—often provoke nervous laughter and black humor. If in the past this snarky folklore may have been shared among friends and uttered behind closed doors, today the Internet’s ubiquity and instant interactivity propels such humor across a much more extensive and digitally mediated discursive space. New media not only let more people “in on the joke,” but they have also become the “go-to” formats for engaging in symbolic interaction, especially in times of anxiety or emotional suppression, by providing users an expansive forum for humorous, combative, or intellectual communication, including jokes that cross the line of propriety and good taste.

Moving through engaging case studies of Internet-derived humor about momentous disasters in recent American popular culture and history, The Last Laugh chronicles how and why new media have become a predominant means of vernacular expression. Trevor J. Blank argues that computer-mediated communication has helped to compensate for users’ sense of physical detachment in the “real” world, while generating newly meaningful and dynamic opportunities for the creation and dissemination of folklore. Drawing together recent developments in new media studies with the analytical tools of folklore studies, he makes a strong case for the significance to contemporary folklore of technologically driven trends in folk and mass culture.

Trevor J. Blank
is an assistant professor of communication at the State University of New York at Potsdam. He is editor of the e-journal New Directions in Folklore and of the books Folklore and the Internet: Vernacular Expression in a Digital World and Folk Culture in the Digital Age: The Emergent Dynamics of Human Interaction.

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“Blank's book is a thoughtful, breezy, largely well-written look at how and why new media technologies redefine, transmit, and preserve folklore.”

The Last Laugh is a model of meticulous scholarship and a highly recommended contribution to academic library Cultural Studies, Contemporary Folk Lore Studies, and Media Studies reference collections.”
Midwest Book Review

“A satisfying read about technologically driven trends in folk and mass culture, that delivers some chuckles and shivers alone the way.”

“This lively and meticulously researched study makes a persuasive case for the future of folklore that is already here.”
Western Folklore

Of Related Interest:
cover of Lowering the Bar is black, with an illustration of a blue man with a briefcase crushed by a white anvil, inscribed with a lawyer jokeLowering the Bar
Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture
Marc Galanter
"Hilarious and philosophical at the same time, a nifty probe of the genre, regularly guilty of wise humor."—Carlin Romano,
Philadelphia Inquirer


August 2013
LC: 2012032669 GR
188 pp.   6 x 9   12 b/w illus.

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Paper $24.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-29204-1
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The Last Laugh takes up a position at the vanguard of vernacular media studies. In a playful prose style that brims with humorous examples, this work finally brings the perspective of folklore studies to the scholarship on digital media in an eminently readable, often poignant, and sometimes profound case study of the fundamentally human capacity to connect with others through humor. This book is required reading for anyone interested in the many roles digital media now play in our everyday lives.”
—Robert Glenn Howard, author of Digital Jesus: The Making of a New Christian Fundamentalist Community on the Internet


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Updated May 2, 2013

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